It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, but Getting Where owes a lot to Anthony Bourdain.
Five years ago, I went to eat at The Kitchin in Leith – my first, and so far only, Michelin starred restaurant experience. As we were seated I looked up to find that I was put directly under a photo of the chef with Anthony Bourdain. I was happy about this, and I know at the time I definitely commented on it. It’s as though he was there to remind me that, while eating in such a lauded restaurant was an incredibly tasty and amazing experience, the really good stuff was elsewhere, and much more accessible.
Would I have jumped onto the back of someone’s motorbike in rainy Hanoi, zoomed to the outskirts of the city in some of the most incredible traffic I’ve ever seen wearing a borrowed helmet that didn’t really fit my massive western head, half terrified, half amazed as I watched my host buy ingredients from a local market without ever leaving the bike? Would I have sat on the floor of a stranger’s one-room apartment with a group of friends who didn’t speak my language, laughing, eating fried frogs legs, being shown how to wrap my own spring rolls? Would I have ignored my mother’s cautions in my head and put myself in for such an amazing, home-cooked meal if not for Anthony Bourdain’s influence?
I think it’s unlikely.
Bourdain was on my mind quite a lot when I was travelling, but particularly in Vietnam. I ate in a small handful of restaurants, but none of them were anywhere near as good as what I got walking in the street or sitting on tiny plastic stools. Not by a long way. Anthony Bourdain was the first person to put the idea in my head that that sort of thing was worth seeking out.
And thank god. There’s the kind of food you make at home, and the kind of food you get in a fancy place with a sommelier, and all manner of things in between. But what I really want when I go away from home is the kind of food other people make at home.
It’s weird to tell people you’re sad about someone famous dying. Particularly when that’s not the sort of thing you usually get affected by. No one really knows what to say to you. Not unlike when anyone else dies you’re sad about I guess. But there’s no point of reference when people don’t know what someone might mean to you.
I didn’t watch him much on TV, but Bourdain’s writing and opinions on food and travel had a tremendous influence on me. That influence continues to lead me to some of the best experiences and flavours in my life.
But the thing about this that tears me up even more is how our brains can sometimes win against us. And that we still haven’t worked out what to do about the more sinister parts of our inner chemistry.
The drive to create and explore makes you better, but in my experience, it also often comes with crippling self-doubt and all manner of other hard stuff to fight through. And my experience doesn’t even include addiction, so I can only imagine how that amplifies and twists a challenge.
You can be smart and honest and creative and prolific and kind and thoughtful, but you can also be disintegrating from the inside. I try as hard as I can to remember this about people, particularly when I’m feeling awful myself. But it’s very hard to remember the inner lives of others when your own is so loud.
I went to see Anthony Bourdain read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival when he was touring on Medium Raw. (I took a vegetarian with me. She loved it!) He was insightful and amusing and did a great job putting the snobbery of some question-askers right where it belonged. It was fantastic.
I did not wait in the ages-long queue to get my book signed. I never know what to say in those situations, and I also decided my time would be better spent in a pub with a beer and some good food talking shit with my friend. So I skipped the signing and went for the pint. I like to think he’d have preferred to do the same.
For me, it’s ok that I never got to say hello or thanks. The best I can do is keep eating everything I can try without discrimination, and encouraging others to do the same. And the next time I sit on a plastic stool with a hot bowl of something delicious, I know who I’ll be thinking of.